Chicago’s Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges


Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett has announced she will plead guilty to recent corruption charges filed against her that alleged she played a role in a scheme that involved receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars, airplane tickets, meals and baseball tickets in return for steering over $23 million in contracts to her former employer.

Byrd-Bennett was charged last last week in a 23-count indictment.  Appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in October 2012, she held her position until resigning in June of this year.

Zachary T. Fardon, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said Byrd-Bennett was cooperating with the ongoing investigation and had planned to plead guilty, writes Julie Bosman for The New York Times.

Byrd-Bennett’s lawyer, Michael Scudder, released a statement saying that she was “accepting full responsibility for her conduct” and that she would be “testifying truthfully if called upon to do so.”

According to the indictment, Byrd-Bennett plotted with her former employers, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, to give her bribes and kickbacks.  It suggests she would be given a 10% kickback for every contract that would be paid to her on the first day she left her job at CPS and came back to work for her former employers, reports Steve Almasy for CNN.

The two men are the former owners of educational consulting firm Supes Academy, as well as the subsidiary Synesi Associates.  The pair were criminally charged with fraud, bribery and conspiracy for their roles, writes Mark Peters for The Wall Street Journal.

The relationship between Byrd-Bennett and Supes Academy had been called into question as early as 2013 when the board for Chicago Public Schools approved a $20 million no-bid contract stating that the academy would offer professional development to school principals.

The indictment suggests that Byrd-Bennett conspired with her former employers to ensure they were given sizable contracts from the school system since she entered her role as chief executive in 2012.  It went on to say that she ordered school employees to ask for approval for no-bid contracts that could be awarded to the academy, and then pushed for the board to approve them.  In addition, she lied to school administrators when she told them she had no financial connection to the academy.

Her friends, too, were offered jobs at the academy, and a holiday party for school employees was paid for by Solomon in 2012, who also set up two trust funds in the names of relatives of Byrd-Bennett.

An email she wrote to Solomon in December 2012 asked him to make the two accounts in the names of her relatives “equal.”

“I would like the flexibility to use funds for whatever reason as needed for them,” she wrote.

The indictment added that she had a position waiting for her at Supes whenever she chose to leave CPS, as stated in an email from Solomon which said Byrd-Bennett had a generous “signing bonus” waiting for her.

“If you only join for the day, you will be the highest-paid person on the planet for that day,” he said. “Regardless, it will be paid out on Day 1.”

Each count of fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  She was officially charged with 15 counts of mail fraud and 5 counts of wire fraud.